by Sarah C.
(names have been changed at the author’s request)
“I HAD SEX WITH KYLE,” I said to my husband.
I just sort of blurted it out, the words exploding from my mouth. It was by far the most difficult conversation I’d ever had to start in our long history together; a statement that could spell the end of a marriage, or at least cause for great distress.
The tension in the air was palpable. I stared at him intently as he drove, waiting for some discernible reaction.
“When?” He finally said, after a long, heavy silence.
“A couple weeks ago. I’m sorry it took me so long to tell you. It’s not the easiest conversation to start.” I tried to explain.
“Okay,” he said, but he was clearly reeling from this revelation, despite the fact that it was not totally unexpected.
From the outside, there is nothing about John and I that would seem suspect. We’ve been together for 13 years, married for 8, we’re both well educated, we live in a quiet suburb, in a 4-bedroom house with 2 cats and we’ve recently completed this portrait of heteronormativity with the birth of our daughter, whom we adore beyond words. To those who don’t know us well, we appear to embody the American ideal of a married couple in their mid-30s. But we are not what we seem.
We have what is termed a consensually non-monogamous relationship, or what most people would call an “open marriage,” and while the decision to allow each other to have other partners was one of the greatest decisions we’ve ever made as a couple, it requires a degree of honesty that could threaten even the strongest relationships.
Kyle and I met in grad school, he shared an office with my best friend, so I saw him a lot. I would often head to his apartment after my classes were over for the day to hang out for a few hours and avoid the infamous Los Angeles traffic. Over the course of many hours spent talking, playing Scrabble, and listening to music, something had begun to develop, and while I recognized it as different from a typical friendship, I wasn’t totally sure what it was. Then one night, he put his arm around me and I froze like a deer in the headlights, before practically running out of his apartment to my car.
At first I was puzzled. What in my behavior would have given him the indication that I was interested in something more than friendship? I had never been intentionally flirtatious, I thought of him as a close friend…but I did spend an awful lot of time with him…sometimes until late at night…and to say I enjoyed his company was an understatement, I was fascinated by him…and he was a heterosexual single male…and suddenly I realized that his coming on to me shouldn’t have surprised me in the least. I was perplexed. I was very happily married. And if I had no desire whatsoever to leave my husband, what was this?
I turned this over (and over) in my mind for a few months. I knew I wanted to continue spending time with Kyle, in fact, I wanted more time with him than I was already getting, and while my husband is not the jealous type, being completely honest about what Kyle and I were was starting to become more difficult.
The thing is, John and I had talked about having an open relationship for years. While I had no objection to the idea, I wasn’t sure how it would actually work. I knew I had no interest in random sex with strangers, and the only examples of open relationships I knew of were swinging or threesomes involving an additional female which ended in disaster for the few people I knew who’d tried it. Well before I had begun considering Kyle as a potential partner, he and I had talked about his experience with open relationships, particularly with what is termed “polyamory”. Polyamory technically means “many loves” and is a type of consensually non-monogamous relationship which allows for emotionally and/or sexually intimate relationships with more than one partner. The extra-dyadic relationships can range in intensity, from something resembling casual dating to communal living and raising children together. Polyamory can take on many forms, sometimes it can involve an intimate relationship with another couple, while in other instances partners are sought out individually. While I couldn’t see John and I being interested in communal living, the style of polyamory that resembled “dating” was appealing to me, and seemed like it had the potential to be a good fit for us.
John and I knew we wanted kids, and as we were both in our thirties, the deadline was approaching. But if we were going to give non-monogamy a shot, it seemed best to conduct this experiment before we had a family, in case it didn’t work. So one January afternoon, I sat John down in our living room and told him what I’d been thinking. I nervously began to describe why I thought now would be the best time to try opening our relationship, what polyamory was and how it appealed to me as an alternative to sex with strangers, and how I felt that Kyle could be a pretty ideal partner for me, given his experience and our similar personalities. I was anxious and fearful that he might outright reject the idea, or be hurt that I already had someone in mind. Relief washed over me when John agreed that it was now-or-never and wanted to give it a try. We agreed on some rules regarding honesty, on keeping weekends as our time together, and various other details, and we gave it a shot.
Fortunately for us, this decision did not blow up our lives. Quite the opposite, in fact. It hasn’t all been easy, it takes work, and we’ve had some tough days, but polyamory forces you to be brutally honest with yourself and with each other, and to deal with difficult things like jealousy and insecurity. We’re closer now than we ever were, we talk more, laugh more, and while our sex life was always good, it has since become even better. Consensual non-monogamy certainly isn’t for everybody, but it’s perfect for us. It suits our personalities and has made us stronger together, which is especially important now that we are raising our daughter.
Sarah C. (pseudonym) divides her time between teaching statistics and conducting a study on consensual non-monogamy at a local university and being a servant to her beautiful daughter. In her free time (what little of it there is) she enjoys reading, hiking, and the blissful experience of solitude, but most days she’ll settle for 20 minutes of silence so that she can google more things about babies.